I've written this power rack guide because this piece of weight lifting equipment should be the centerpiece of any gym.
You can't even find power racks in some commercial gyms and this is a great sign to never set foot in that gym again.
Instead, build your own home gym and start with the power rack as your centerpiece. This guide to power racks will help you to do that.
Benefits of a Power Rack
A power rack allows you to use free weights in your home gym. Free weights build more muscle and strength than any machine. Free weights are the preferred choice here at Weight Lifting Complete. Machines are useful but free weights are always preferred.
With weight lifting, safety is always #1. Preventing injury is one of the keys to making continuous progress.
All power racks come with safety spotter bars that allow you to safely lift free weights on your own at home. You must learn how to set them properly for each exercise, though, to ensure the spotter bars will catch the weights if needed.
If you lift under control and know your limits, you should never need the safety bars BUT they are always there to give you that feeling of safety. Safely increasing the amount of weight you are lifting is the key to building muscle and a good rack allows you to do this.
You won't have to lift the bar from the ground for certain weight lifting exercises.
Imagine trying to clean the bar up, press it overhead, and then lower it to your upper back just to perform squats. If you have to do so, this limits the amount of weight you can use AND it requires more energy to get the bar in place. With a power rack, the bar is already in position for squats.
With the bar in position, you can focus on the exercise without wasting energy getting the bar in position. This allows you to build more muscle and strength.
Squats and many variations of the squat aren't the only exercises made easier. Overhead press and bench press are just a couple more exercises that are tough to do without a power rack.
The number of weightlifting exercises you can safely do are greatly increased. The 7 core WLC weight lifting exercises are (1) squats, (2) deadlifts, (3) bench press, (4) rows, (5) overhead press, (6) pull ups, (7) dips. All of these can be safely done with the right power rack.
You can even do hanging ab exercises by hanging from the pull up bar. Not that you need to do them, but they are available just in case.
Hundreds of variations of WLC's core exercises can also be done. Exercises such as front squats, stationary lunges, rack deadlifts, pendlay rows, rack chin-ups, standing calf raises, and even seated barbell calf raises can be done.
Drawbacks to a Power Rack
The power rack isn't perfect. It does have a few drawbacks I'll discuss with you. You need to know these drawbacks before you start looking for one.
Any power rack is going to take up a good amount of floor space. If you're tight on floor space, you can find some smaller footprint racks but be sure to check before buying one from anywhere. You don't want to put the thing together and have to take it all apart because it doesn't fit.
Get yourself a tape measure and take some measurements. Remember that you also need a little extra space around the rack for putting weight plates on the barbell and taking them off the barbell.
Don't forget that the rack will most likely have to be taken apart before moving it to another room. Just something to keep in mind since once a power rack is put together it's not going to fit through most doors.
This drawback is very important. You must make sure you have enough ceiling height for the power rack of your choice. And this doesn't just mean taking the height measurement from the rack and making sure your ceiling is higher than that.
Most power racks come with a chin up bar and the chin up bar is something you'll be using with WLC. Everyone can do chin ups if they work hard on them and chin ups / pull ups are one of the best upper body exercises in existence.
When doing chin ups or pull ups, your head will need to come above the top of the bar. This means you need extra room above the power rack for your head. You don't want to get your power rack together and during your first set of pull ups BANG your head against the ceiling. Make sure to plan for this.
Power racks can be expensive. They range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
Alternatives to a full size power rack will cost less but you'll lose many of the advantages and those alternate pieces of weight lifting equipment have drawbacks as well.
Besides the cost of the power rack, you'll need an Olympic barbell set, extra weight plates, and an adjustable bench for additional weight lifting exercises.
Alternatives to a Power Rack
I want to discuss alternatives to power racks just in case you do not have that option. You might not have the space, the ceiling height, or a couple of hundred dollars to spend. But you want a good home gym and a good place to workout to improve your health, your body, and your life.
Many of the options below aren't going to have chin up bars or dip bars as many power racks will have. This means you would need to purchase a chin up / dip station separately which leads to more required floor space and higher cost. So think about this before choosing an alternative.
Squat racks take up less space than most full power racks but have many drawbacks. Most squat racks don't have safety spotter pins or stands but some might. There are many different types of squat racks.
Good options will have safety pins or safety stands. I wouldn't compromise there as safety should always be #1 for you.
An even less safe option are squat stands. The advantage here is space as most squat stands only take up a very small amount of space.
Cost of squat stands are usually less than a full power rack but sometimes they aren't much less. I've seen some squat stands up to $1000.
Many half racks are going to be much better for lower ceiling heights as they are usually smaller. They also take up less floor space.
Many half racks will cut down on some of the exercises you can do with the safety spotter bars. Big advantage with space, though.
A Smith Machine is not a good alternative to any of the above options because you won't be using free weights. The machine locks you into a specific plane of motion.
A Smith Machine can be useful for certain exercises but should never be the centerpiece of your home gym. It's simply another tool that can be used.
How to Choose a Power Rack
Choosing the right power rack for your home gym might seem difficult at first. There are so many options out there and each rack can be very different. When you're spending hundreds of dollars on something that will stay with you for many years, you want to make the perfect choice.
Sturdy, Strong, Weight Capacity
You must get a rack that is very sturdy, strong, and with a large weight capacity. At first, you might not think you need to lift very much weight but you'll get stronger over the weeks, months, and years.
So get a power rack with a large weight capacity. You'll get very strong. You want to make sure this piece of weight lifting equipment is going to last for years.
Size (Width & Height)
You'll want to get one that's as wide and as tall as possible for the area you have. This gives you more room inside the rack to do a larger variety of exercises.
You'll want to be able to do standing overhead presses as well as exercises like sumo squats and sumo deadlifts that require a wider area.
Uprights (Inside & Outside)
You should be able to adjust the height of the barbell inside the rack and outside the rack. If you need to move outside the rack for another exercise, you want a rack that gives you that option. Very important option.
Make sure these have narrow spacing as well so you get just the right heights for different exercises.
Safety pins are an absolute requirement and they need to have a very small spacing between them to so you can set them at the perfect height for each exercise. They need to be easily adjustable as well so you're not wasting time during workouts.
Pull Up Bar
A pull up bar is highly recommended. Make sure the rack you're getting has at least a straight bar for pull ups. I do not recommend a set of wide grips and that's it. You want a straight bar and even better would be additional parallel bar for hammer grip pull ups or chin ups.
Some power racks will come with dip bar attachments which are very important. Dips are one of the 7 core weight lifting exercises here at WLC and used in many of the WLC weight lifting workouts because of their effectiveness in building upper body strength and muscle.
If you don't get a rack with dip attachments, you'll need to get a dipping station separately and that will take up more floor space and cost you more. But it's always an option if the rack you have has no dip bars.
If you want to save more energy during your workouts for the actual exercises you'll be doing, you should get a rack with plenty of weight holders on each side. This will be very convenient for you and save lots of time and energy.
Where to Find Power Racks
Some people may have a hard time finding weight lifting equipment locally. There aren't many good weight lifting equipment stores around. If you do find someone that sells weightlifting equipment, they might not have any power racks available.
Most people go looking for those horrible home gyms with weight stacks and machine stations on each side. So you might not be able to find a good power rack in any store.
I believe the stores are looking to sell more of those home gyms because they make more money on those and the equipment manufacturers push those much more. Power racks are the MUCH better option, though, as you're learning here today.
Local Gym Equipment Store
Give your local fitness or gym equipment store a shot first. It's great to support your local businesses so give them a shot first. If they do have some good home gym equipment, you'll be able to look at it and even try it before buying — something you can't do when buying online.
Craigslist / Local Classified Ads
If you can't find anything at a local store or the price is too much, give the local ads a shot. Craigslist is a great source for low cost equipment. Most gym equipment will last for years and years. Just because it's used doesn't mean it isn't good stuff.
I've sold much of my used equipment on Craigslist. Just the other day I sold my first squat rack for just $30 and it still works very, very well. The guy who bought it from me got a great deal. So take a look around your local classified ads. You might find an amazing deal.
One of my favorite places to find weight lifting equipment is Amazon. Even if I don't buy anything through there, I can at least read reviews on equipment and get prices. I like to find new equipment and ideas for my home gym there as well.
There are many great power racks available on Amazon right now just to give you some ideas for your home gym. Power Racks on Amazon.
New York Barbells
The very first squat rack I purchased was through New York Barbells. They are still going strong and have a huge variety of weight lifting equipment. You'll find dip bar attachments for their power racks, chin up bar attachments, and more. Great option. Give them a look here: New York Barbells.
If you have money to spend and want the best, take a look at the power racks at Rogue Fitness. They are very high quality. Here's the link: Rogue Fitness.
How to Build Your Own Power Rack
If you like building things, have some extra time, and want to save some money you can build your very own power rack. I've always wanted to do this but haven't taken the time to do so.
Here are some great links for putting together your very own power rack for your home gym:
I've always enjoyed building things and it gives you a great sense of accomplishment.
Remember that safety is always first, though, if you do decide to build your own.
It's much easier and safer to purchase a power rack designed by engineers so please keep that in mind before you decide.
A Power Rack In Your Home Gym
No matter what, please remember that the cost of a home gym is much less compared to the cost of a commercial gym membership.
The convenience you'll have with a power rack at home is worth the cost.
You will be able to stay more consistent with your weight lifting workouts because you won't have to pack everything up and drive to a gym.
The cost of your time, cost of the gym membership, cost of driving, cost of gas, wear and tear on your vehicle, and other things make the home gym alternative a MUCH better option.
I've laid out the cost comparison within the WLC System Manual, and you'll see that it's not even close.
Most weight lifting equipment like a quality power rack will last many, many years if not a lifetime.
I've had much of my weight lifting equipment for nearly 15 years and all of it is still working great. Imagine the cost of a commercial gym membership for 15 years! I'll take a home gym and a power rack every single time.